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Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

What are Standard Operating Procedures?

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a set of written instructions that describes in detail how to safety perform work involving hazardous materials (biological, chemical, radiological), hazardous equipment or hazardous operations.   The scope of an SOP can cover:

  • The specific or generic use of a hazardous material, class of materials or piece of laboratory equipment such as in a specific laboratory procedure.
  • A generic procedure that covers several hazardous materials or types of laboratory or facilities equipment.

In Laboratories, the OSHA Laboratory Standard recommends that the Chemical Hygiene Plan include: "Standard Operating Procedures relevant to safety and health considerations to be followed when laboratory work involves the use of hazardous chemicals".

SOPs are used to:
  • Identify the responsible person for each task;
  • Describe what is to be completed;
  • Train staff; and
  • Monitor site performance.

What are the benefits of using SOPs?

  • Act as a training tool for new employees and/or trainees
  • Reduce errors that could cause an injury
  • Transfer work easily
  • Updating SOPs provides a method to communicate the process changes to employees.
  • To act as a historical records of the how, why and when of steps in an existing process. It provides a factual basis for revising those steps when a process or equipment are changed.
  • Act as an explanation of steps in a process for review in accident investigations.

Tips for writing SOPs

  • Determine a single task to focus on.
  • List all the steps currently used to complete that task.
  • Take each step in the task and make it more efficient and easier to follow.
  • Use clear, concise language.
  • Use the active voice when writing.
  • Avoid names; use job functions instead.
  • All SOPs should be written by someone who has sound knowledge and experience with the material, equipment, and related procedures.

Things to remember:

  • SOPs should be reviewed on a regular basis (usually annually) to ensure policy based regulations are up-to-date.
  • Previous versions of SOPs should be retained.
  • All staff should have SOP training (document this training).
  • SOPs should be accessible to staff.